The following was originally published (The Boise Weekly) August 13, 1998.
The Cruelest Season
The following happened on July 23. If it was bad then, it’s worse now. Three weeks worse.
My eight-year old was getting her daily dose of Disney. Aladdin it was, and she watches it every morning. She’s seen each episode 67 times, not that it matters. One episode of Aladdin is pretty much like another, anyway.
But repetition doesn’t seem to bother my girl, and I suspect her dedication goes beyond a childish fascination with cartoons. It’s possible she has a little crush on Aladdin. He’s one good-looking thief of Baghdad, no doubt about it, and there are no age limits on a crush. Or maybe she’s checking out Jasmine for fashion tips, or maybe she uses the show like I use the daily paper, as a warm-up to waking up.
Whatever her reasons, she watches like she’s seeing the cartoon with her whole body. She watches so intensely, I have to throw something through the television screen to get her attention. Or at least pretend to. When she was five or six, I could pull her away from Aladdin by shrieking, “EEK! IT’S THE LITTLEST MERMAID!” But that doesn’t work anymore.
Which is why I was so startled on the morning of July 23 when she turned away from the teevee without me throwing something through the screen. She turned away from good-lookin’ Aladdin and Jasmine and a desert full of cartoon trouble and said, “Dad, you know what? D’you know it’s THURSDAY already?”
By the panic in her eyes, I immediately recognized what she was going through. I’ve been there. More times than I care to remember, I’ve been down that bleak existential road. You see, my poor little girl had suddenly realized a truth so horrid that even Disney couldn’t brighten it up.
My poor little girl had suddenly realized summer was more over than not. “It’s THURSDAY already!” was her way of saying, And what the hell have I got to show for it?
There was a summer once when I decided to build a bunch of dinosaurs and charge admission. During the preceding school year, I’d made a triceratops, a stegosaurus, and something else I can’t remember, all out of green clay, and put them in a 2’X2’ plywood dinosaur corral complete with a papier maché volcano and rubber forest. My teacher said I did a real good job. My mom said I did a real good job. The way I like to remember it, a whole bunch of people said I did a real good job. So many, I began to think, “Holy Coonskin Cap, Billy, you made such excellent three-inch dinosaurs out of green clay, why not make some 30-foot dinosaurs out of green clay? Big ‘uns. And heck, the only difference between a 12-inch papier maché volcano and a 500-foot paper maché volcano is how much papier you can get yer hands on. An’ I could make the trees out of … uuuh … real trees! O-YEAH! THIS THING CAN BE DONE, BILLY! AND YOU’RE JUST THE FELLER TO DO IT!”
I asked Dad if I could borrow three or four acres from the pasture. “Whatcha’ gonna do with ‘em, Bill?” he asked, and I don’t blame him. Even back then, acres didn’t come cheap.
“Well, I’m gonna make about 20 or 30 dinosaurs. Real sized ones. And a volcano, and a forest, and I’m gonna put a tall fence around it so’s people can’t see in, then I’m gonna make ‘em pay me money to get in.”
“Use as many acres as you want, Son. But have you given any thought to a Kool-ade stand, instead?”
So, I had the acres, I was confident I could lay my hands on several hundred tons of green clay, and I had a whole summer ahead of me to pull it together. A whole summer, which was plenty of time to take a few days off before I got started and chase some frogs down by the irrigation ditch. And wrestle with the dog some. And watch some Daffy Duck. And sleep in some. And fiddle with some bugs on the driveway. And get wet some. And read some comic books. And hide in a haystack some. And learn how to skip some rocks. And grease my face up with some buttered corn, then wash it off with some watermelon.
You know where this is going, I’m sure. I didn’t get my dinosaurs made. Or my volcano. Or nothin’.
* * *
Fact is, I can’t remember what I did do that particular summer. I only remember what I did summers—all of them—like they were one shimmering daydream where droughts didn’t matter but a dust devil in the distance did. Where morning smelled yellow, afternoon tasted gold, and the night had a throbbing purple heart. I also remember that a summer day never went by when I didn’t think, “This will end, and whose bright idea is that?”
I don’t know what plans my kid had for this summer. The best summer plans are usually a secret affair, so I didn’t ask. And in turn, she didn’t ask to borrow any acres, so at least she’s not setting herself up for the same grand expectations I flopped at so badly.
But as the last of her summer vacation squishes out between her toes, I’ve been trying to come up with a way to explain it, to help her deal with the truth that such pleasure comes and goes as swiftly as a barn swallow in the dusk. Or as swiftly as a child grows. The best I can do is, “Believe me, Darlin’ … it wasn’t my bright idea.”
August 13, 1998